Film Round-Up – Weeks commencing 29 December 2014 and 5 January 2014

After the Christmas festivities and the over-abundance associated with them, it was nice to get back to going to the cinema for a sense of routine.  The last couple of weeks have been busy when it comes to my cinema going with four films over three visits which couldn’t be more different if you tried.

The Theory of EverythingThe Woman in Black 2 Angel of DeathTaken 3Foxcatcher

 

“The Theory Of Everything” (Director: James Marsh)

Based on the memoir by Jane Hawking, “The Theory Of Everything” follows the real-life story of Jane and her relationship with notable astrophysicist Stephen Hawking from 1963, prior to his diagnosis that he had motor neurone disease, through his work to establish the beginnings of the universe up to the publication of his world famous work, “A Brief History Of Time”.

For anyone who expects to see the two-hour visual version of a physics thesis may be disappointed as this film is more about the Hawkings and the effect that Stephen’s motor neurone disease has on their lives and the wider circle of lives that they touch.  That’s not to say that physics doesn’t play a part in the film, but it acts as a driver to show the Hawkings’ determination to challenge that which is put in front of them.

The film has been presented in trailers as romantic in tone and to a large extent it is, but it’s also a film that is intelligently produced both in front of and behind the camera and one that doesn’t duck the difficulties faced by the Hawkings by Stephen’s condition itself or the effects that it had on their lives – especially later in the film when Jane has an affair with the man who would eventually become her husband, albeit with Stephen’s eventual blessing.

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are fantastic in the roles of Stephen and Jane, perfectly complimenting each other into making not only a credible partnership as lovers but as people seeking not to be confined by diagnosis of the Stephen’s coniditon itself or the prognosis of his life expectancy. The pair make you care for the characters with a mixture of humour, emotion and gutsy acting without falling into the trap of being mawkish. Redmayne gives a superb physical performance as Stephen as he goes from a sporty 21 year old to a man who becomes increasingly debilitated by his condition whilst demanding that you do not feel sorry for Hawking. Instead, you admire both Stephen and Jane all the more for what they accomplished in the duration of their marriage.

The pair are supported by a large cast including Harry Lloyd in the role of Stephen’s fellow Physics graduate and friend Brian, David Thewlis as Hawking’s mentor Dennis Sciama, Simon McBurney and Emily Watson in the roles of Stephen’s father and Jane’s mother respectively, and Charlie Cox and Maxine Peake as Jonathan Hellyer Jones and Elaine Mason who eventually became Jane’s husband and Stephen’s wife.

I previously said in a review that I wrote for the “Hot Cute Girly Geek” site for “The Imitation Game” that Benedict Cumberbatch would be in a good position for the forthcoming awards season for his portrayal of Alan Turing. After seeing Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Stephen Hawking, I would say that I’d be pleased if either Cumberbatch or Redmayne gets a gong or two.

As in the case of “The Imitation Game”, the British film making industry manages to deliver a film driven by emotion and smarts with this film and in an industry which is increasingly dominated by special effects and chasing the movie goers “buck”, that’s no bad thing.

 

 

“The Woman In Black 2: Angel Of Death” (Director: Tom Harper)

Set forty years after the original film, this sequel sees schoolteacher Eve Parkins evacuate the London Blitz of World War II alongside the school’s headmistress and a party of children to the village of Crythin Gifford to stay in Eel Marsh  House.  Once they arrive, they find that the  house isn’t as deserted as they thought as the malevolent spirit of Jennet Humpfrye is resurrected by their presence.

As a fan of the original stage play, I had to admit to having concerns about a sequel, especially given the negative reaction to the book on which this sequel is based.  I have to admit that on leaving this film to enjoying it.  As in the original film, Hammer has chosen to go for atmospheric horror rather than guts and gore, which is great for somebody like me as I’m not great on gore.

Another area where I did have concerns was that the film would be just “The Woman In Black” in name only rather than a true sequel, but I am pleased to say that the film not only uses the locations and original story but builds upon the “mythos” by adding depth to Jennet’s backstory and using it as a driver to move the story along and, albeit a dark presence, provides some sympathy to the woman behind the spirit.

The dynamic for this story is different to the original as instead of the focus being on a single protagonist, the role is shared out amongst several actors with Phoebe Fox taking the lead role supported by Helen McCrory taking on the role of headmistress Jean Hogg and Jeremy Irvine as love interest Harry.  The three work together through the use of Jennet’s storyline to dig into their respective stories drive the story along in a fluid fashion.

Alongside the three leads are Adrian Rawlins (who portrayed “Arthur Kidd” from the British television version of “The Woman In Black”, the role that Daniel Radcliffe took on in the feature film) in the role of Dr Rhodes, the man responsible for billeting the evacuees in Eel Marsh House, and Oaklee Prendergast in the role of Edward, a young orphan who accompanies the evacuees and the focus for Jennet’s malevolent force.

Whilst not having the star power backing as in the case of the original film, the sequel works by sticking to the Hammer ideal of using chills over gore and by building on Susan Hill’s original work.

 

 

“Taken 3” (Director: Oliver Megaton)

Okay, I’m going to say that although he has a particular set of skills, Brian Mills and his family must be the unluckiest lot going. After his daughter was kidnapped in the first film, then Brian and his ex-wife Lenore being kidnapped in the second film, Brian is framed for the murder of Lenore in the third film. What follows is a search by Brian to catch the real murderer whilst protecting his daughter and avoiding capture by the police.

“Taken 3” is one of those films that I call a “Friday Night Out” film. What I mean by that is that you’ve had a hard week at work and you don’t want anything taxing on the brain. This film definitely delivers to that extent. What it doesn’t deliver is in the thrill of the first two films, settling instead to play it safe with a take on “The Fugitive” only with more chases and, because you’ll work out who actually bumped off the character of Lenore early in this film faster than an episode of “Columbo”, fewer twists.

Liam Neeson has developed a niche market in this stage of his career of portraying men who “kick ass and take names” and his portrayal of Brian Mills continues in this vein. Only problem is that due to the age classification of this film (12A in the UK which means that children of under 12 years of age can watch it if they are accompanied by an adult) the threat has been watered down in comparison to the original film which was 18 rated. Now, I’m not one for watching violence just for violence sake, but this film with its lack of actual plot or threat means that you watch a film that proceeds from one chase to another or one fight to another.

Neeson is accompanied with “Taken” regulars Famke Janssen briefly reprising her role as Lenore and Maggie Grace as Kim, Brian and Lenore’s daughter. Alongside them are Leland Order as Sam and John Gries as Casey, Brian’s former associates at the CIA.

New members of the cast include Dougray Scott, replacing Xander Berkeley, in the role of Lenore’s husband Stuart and Forest Whitaker as Inspector Dotzler.

For a Friday Night Out type of film, it’s okay but nothing more than that.  Some of the promotional material cries out that “It ends here” with this third film and I hope it does or the franchise, most certainly the original film, will be ruined by increasingly inferior sequels.

 

“Foxcatcher” (Director: Bennett Miller)

Based on real life events, this film follows the story of Mark and Dave Schultz, two brothers who won Olympic gold at Los Angeles.  Three years on and Dave is coaching at collegiate level whilst Mark is living under his shadow.  In the midst of this, Mark receives an offer from John E. Du Pont to head up Team Foxcatcher with the aim of celebrating American values in the forthcoming World wrestling championships and the Seoul Olympics of 1988, but success leads to excess and the relationship between DuPont and the Schultz brothers heads on a tragic path.

Another film that is already considered to be heading for great things this awards season and despite not knowing the story behind “Foxcatcher” I was eager to see this film given the three lead actors.  After seeing this film, it’s easy to see why it’s been getting the plaudits that it has been doing as Bennett Miller makes a quiet but tense thriller ticking along whilst seeking to examine the relationship between the three lead characters of the film – with the character of John Du Pont using his position of a philanthropist to endow sport with his own version of the American ideal, how Mark’s success becomes the catalyst for a friendship, of sorts, with John and how Mark’s relationship with Dave would not only lead to the fracturing of that friendship but in the eventual murder of Dave by Du Pont.

One area of the behind the scenes work in this film that excels, beyond the direction and writing, is the make up work which manages to help sell the physical transformation of all three lead actors.  Whilst Channing Tatum is recognisable as Mark, Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carrell definitely transform in their physical portrayals of Dave Schultz and John Du Pont respectively.

Channing Tatum makes a more than effective move from the films that he may have been more known for by delivering an intense portrayal in the role of Mark Schultz.  He very much embodies the intensity of sport with his physicality and the emotional need for a person to have a parental figure in their life for reasons that become apparent during the early stages of the film whilst giving an uncomfortable portrayal including scenes of drug use, self harm and eating disorder conditions.

Mark Ruffalo delivers a solid performance in the role of Dave as a man where family is the driving factor – not just his wife and children but also Mark – are important and how his eventual hiring by Du Pont to take up the assistant coach’s role and his support for Mark becomes the catalyst to the circumstances at the film’s conclusion.

But, it’s Steve Carrell who really shines in this film as he makes the transition from his comedic background into delivering a chilling performance in the role of John Du Pont.  Carrell manages to make an unusual combination, given the nature of the story, of making the character of Du Pont sympathetic, to an extent, by on the one hand a man who appears to be unable to interact with people thanks to his background with his mother, whilst on the other being a man who craves a sense of family and attention.

The three leads are supported by Vanessa Redgrave portraying Du Pont’s mother Jean who, from the film, appears to be somebody who was heavily responsible for his background as he grew up and Sienna Miller who, like Carrell and Ruffalo, is virtually unrecognisable in the role of Dave’s wife Nancy.

With great acting, direction and support from behind the scenes, this is another film which deserves to be in the reckoning at awards season.

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